NEW YORK – We all pay abject lip service to China. The business community and the media are equally in thrall to the world’s second largest – and fastest growing economy.
But China’s also a handy device for fear mongering.
Cheap labor, fake chips, counterfeit DVDs, the Communist Party, reeducation, all those central government-led 5-year plans…China strikes us foreign and distant, culturally and socially speaking.
Further, China today is the largest foreign buyer of US government debt. That’s a fact, but in an election year, it’s a fact that fuels fear of China calling in our debt and bringing America to its knees. That catastrophe is unlikely, but it doesn’t forestall politicians – and much of the U.S. public – from blaming China for every lost job in America.
It’s clear that we have a schizophrenic perception of China. We conveniently switch back and forth between two images of China, as we see fit, depending on the hot topic at the moment. Between the two polar views of China, however, many stories – with layers of complexity – remain untold.
As I talk to people in our industry, I am constantly amazed how much they know and how insightful their global views are. In our interviews and reporting at EE Times and EE Times Confidential over the last 18 months, China inevitably came up again and again. Here are just some sample of threads on China we’ve picked up.
1. Portraying China just as a “manufacturer” of technology products, while still true, is passé. China is rapidly rising as a “designer” of technology.
2. Some say there are more than 500 fabless chip companies in China. While that’s an inflated number, there is an unmistakable trend. The top 20 China fabless companies are now on equal footing – in terms of IP cores, design skills and access to advanced process technology – with any fabless company in Silicon Valley. (Find the names of more than 80 Chinese fabless comanies here. )
3. Since the global financial crisis in late 2008, Beijing bureaucrats have replaced U.S. venture capitalists as the major funding source. The Chinese government has given its fabless companies unprecedented access to capital, including subsidies, grants and other incentives.
4. Never paint China as a monolithic country. The country consists of people with diverse ethnic backgrounds – just like the Soviet Union once was. The inequality of different regions – between big cities and villages in the country side – is unimaginably huge. Like warlords in Afghanistan, some provincial governors are powers unto themselves.
6. Successful companies like MediaTek in Taiwan have effectively mined the vast amount of software engineers in China to bolster their mobile chip business. Taiwan’s proximity to China – in geography, language and culture – is definitely playing a role here.
8. Most Chinese companies remain focused on the domestic market. But they look increasingly to the global market. As a colleague in China recently said, “Globalization is not a ‘trend’ in China. It’s a ‘business strategy’ for Chinese companies.”
9. There’s no question that China remains under strong control by the central government. But never underestimate the power of municipal and local agencies in China. They often have their own agendas (even their own technology preferences) to expand the economy within their own regions.
10. Last but not least, let’s not forget the growing affluence of the middle class in China. According to a 2011 Accenture survey focused on usage and spending on consumer electronics technologies in eight countries (Brazil, China, India, Russia, France, Germany, Japan and the United States), Chinese consumers were among the most enthusiastic purchasers and users of the latest consumer technologies including 3-D TVs and smart phones.
I listed above items in a random order, jotting notes as thoughts popped into my head. In short, I’ve probably left out a lot.
My goal this year is to be less random and get a better grip on things and fill in the left-out stuff . For example: what’s happening in China (broadly); what technology and business concerns confront both Chinese companies and Western companies in China today; what does the engineering community in China look like; what are Chinese engineers looking for in the domestic and global markets, etc. I’m happy to report that as of Wednesday (May 9th), my new role at EE Times is Chief International Correspondent – with a strong emphasis in China.
As the industry-base has moved to China, EE Times will be moving, too -- aggressively.
I won’t be actually moving to China right away. But until I do so, I’ll be in and out of China regularly, poking around, ruffling (I hope) a few feathers. Whether you happen to be in Beijing, in New York, in Tokyo or in Paris over the next few months, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s synchronize our watch and meet up.
As I step down from being EE Times’ editor-in-chief, I’ll report to Alex Wolfe – EE Times’ new brand director. Anyone with an institutional memory should recognize his name. Alex is the newshound who broke the Pentium FPU bug story at EE Times in 1994. He returns to EE Times with a wealth of ideas and multimedia skill set. In the 1990’s, I remember Alex as the toughest news editor in this industry. He’s been known to gut a cub reporter with nothing sharper than a blue pencil. I’m looking forward to the challenge again.
I also want to thank Karen Field, senior vice president of content at UBM Electronics, who played an instrumental role in taking the first brave step toward making the China assignment possible.
For someone like me who has moved dwellings (and husband) and pursued reporting assignments from Tokyo, Cupertino and San Mateo to Paris and New York, the new position is a dream come true. It’s a job I had long lobbied for and a role I plan to relish.
Grats, Junko! I am so happy for you and can't wait to see more Asian news from you.
As the manufacturing companies move, the design centers move. The news organizations move closer to the major hub of those companies make total sense. Does it mean the semiconductor business come to "vanishing" in the western countries soon? Or it simply means globalization reach the next level and soon, better communication technologies are required soon. Globalization as an opportunity. ;)
your points are well taken, WW Thinker. We are fully aware that the coverage of any country can't be done soley by a "foreign-born journalist." My responsibiliity is in identifying sources and do the China coverage in collaboration with locals. There is no question about that.
That said, as a "foreign-born jounalist," I have been covering stuff happening outside my native country. So, don't count me out.
Junko is certainly a well-respected journalist. However, I am amazed that EE Times is still taking a western-centric approch in this century. A foreign-born journalist is hardly the best way to find out what and how in a new country. Instead, take the localized approach and find a journalist that was born in China (or Taiwan), educated aboard, well experienced. Many semiconductor companies have been taking the localization approach. For example, Philip Semi (now NXP) moved its Tuner Division HQ to China many years ago, Renesas & NEC Electronics had a China-born (worked in US in the past) person as the president of its subsidiary in China.
The absence of a following statement to "Cheap labor, fake chips, counterfeit DVDs, ..." shows the wrong attitude. That following statement should be "countries like Japan, Taiwan, Korea also received similar accusation in the past. Let's take a concerted effort to find out if China simply follows the footsteps of these now well-recognized countries or not ..."
Junko, Congratulations to you for this new assignment and i believe , we will be able to see China from inside now that you will be writing about your real life interactions with the Chinese industry , Chinese bureaucracy , the Chinese labor force and the Chinese psychology and the Chinese culture.
At the fag end of my career as an engineer , I had a chance to visit China almost every month for a year and that experience is something unforgettable - their hard work, their hospitality and their ingenuity.
All the best!
Yoshida - san : Perhaps you would also do an essay on how democratic Japan will now have to live under the shadow of the still very Communist but also Neo - Imperialistic China, thanks to thoughtless / irresponsible outsourcing and technoloy xfer from US to PRC driven by Wall St. The US has foolishly dug a hole for itself but unfortunately Japan has become a collateral damage.
As an EE embedded system designer, I plan to have my startup in South China instead of in US this year. EE design in US is diminishing and even though I can find good engineers here, the eco-system is just not as complete.
First, thank you so much for chiming in with such kind words.
I am truly excited about my new adventure.
I am planning to be in China early June. Drop me a line if you are already in China or you plan to be there during that time! email@example.com
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.